Lincoln vs. Davis - the Tale of the Tape

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frontrank2

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We all know the final outcome of the ACW, but in terms of leading his country, which man was better suited? On paper, Jefferson Davis appears to have an advantage over Mr. Lincoln. Davis was a year older than Lincoln, being also born in Kentucky. He came from a solid middle class family and was educated at Transylvania College and then sent to West Point. Davis served as an officer with honor, then becoming a Mississippi planter. His brother, who was his mentor, was a bona fide millionaire. The Davis plantation thrived making him one of the wealthiest men in the state. Davis served briefly in Congress before rejoining the Army for the Mexican War, again serving with distinction. After the war, he was elected to the Senate and then served as Secretary of War under Franklin Pierce, and then back to the Senate again. This gives Davis a good solid fifteen years on the national stage before the start of the Civil War.
Lincoln's resume was not so special. His education comprised of approximately one year of formal schooling. Whatever he learned was on his own. He became a self-taught prairie lawyer and served a single term in Congress prior to the Civil War. He had achieved a middle-class status only after years of hard work; any mentoring he received was not financial.
Prior to Secession, both men were very centrist oriented. Lincoln was not an abolitionist, and said so many times. Davis was not a secessionist and said so many times. They both felt strongly for the Union, although Davis believed it was constitutionally possible for a state to secede. Lincoln was against slavery, but he believed it should be contained where it was; Davis, however, felt the institution was essential to the Southern economy. At the time, he was considered to be one of the best presidential candidates the Democrats had.
Davis was a very smooth orator who tried to be a voice of reason, often trying to squelch the Fire Eaters. Even after Lincoln's election in 1860, he advocated patience, desiring to give Lincoln a chance to succeed.
Mr. Lincoln's leadership qualities were not as obvious......at first. He had served for one year in the Illinois State Militia without much distinction. He was a stump speaker, rather than an orator. It is said that his voice was fairly high pitched for such a tall man. His contemporaries, particularly his fellow politicians, believed him to be little more than average as a speaker. Yet his reasoning was deep and his way with words was elegant, often sprinkled with humor. What he said and how he said it was usually memorable. In the 1860 election, Mr. Lincoln was considered a dark horse and his sphere of influence was limited mostly to his home state of Illinois. His Republican rivals were much better known and had more experience on the national stage. But the presidential ballots were split in all directions and Lincoln won by plurality.
Up to this point it would seem that Davis holds a decided advantage. He had been in National Politics much longer. Everybody knew him and respected him. His military experience, both on the field and behind the Secretary of War desk, was unsurpassed. If there had never been Secession, Davis might have made a decent U.S. President. Yet, both were men of good character. They were honest.
But now we must consider the intangible qualities, the ones we don't notice until they are tested. Lincoln's many years of self education left him with the ability to think broadly and to learn from many sources. He WOULD change his mind if he saw an error. And he could work with most people. As our sixteenth President, he grew and improved with each year.
Davis was rigid and inflexible. He had his friends, but he also had harsh enemies. He would never change. Lincoln, with his intangible qualities and greater flexibility, would go on to outshine Jefferson Davis and bring victory to the North and restore the Union.

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Deleted User CS

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Very interesting information. I just saw a you tube video this week in which historian Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia was giving a lecture on this very topic. According to Gallagher, he thought that both men were well selected for their posts. He could not name anyone else who was more qualified than Jefferson Davis to lead the Confederacy at this time. David.
 

frontrank2

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Very interesting information. I just saw a you tube video this week in which historian Gary Gallagher of the University of Virginia was giving a lecture on this very topic. According to Gallagher, he thought that both men were well selected for their posts. He could not name anyone else who was more qualified than Jefferson Davis to lead the Confederacy at this time. David.
I agree, good point.
 
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wbull1

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Very well stated. I would add that Davis rode through crowds of cheering people on his way to inauguration as President of the Confedearacy. Lincoln snuck through Baltimore early in the morning with bodyguards out of fear of assassination to reach Washington, DC.
 
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FedericoFCavada

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Almost two decades ago the historian Joseph Glatthaar noted the ability of Abraham Lincoln to articulate a vision of what the purpose of the war was to the Union in the Gettysburg address. The secessionists never seemed to produce an orator who could do likewise, including apparently, Jefferson Davis. At the war's outset of course, Alexander Stephens merely stated in the "Cornerstone Speech" that the foundation was explicitly the opposite of the nostrum that "all men are created equal."
 

leftyhunter

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los angeles ca
Almost two decades ago the historian Joseph Glatthaar noted the ability of Abraham Lincoln to articulate a vision of what the purpose of the war was to the Union in the Gettysburg address. The secessionists never seemed to produce an orator who could do likewise, including apparently, Jefferson Davis. At the war's outset of course, Alexander Stephens merely stated in the "Cornerstone Speech" that the foundation was explicitly the opposite of the nostrum that "all men are created equal."
Compare Davis's speech at Macon,Georgia in the summer of 1864 with the Gettysburg Address. Rice University has it if you google "Davis speech at Macon,Georgia". Not exactly awe inspiring but nonetheless brutally honest.
Leftyhunter
 

FedericoFCavada

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This one?

https://jeffersondavis.rice.edu/archives/documents/speech-macon-georgia

That is one of the tragedies--among very, very many of course--of the U.S. Civil War. The vast majority of Confederate soldiers who volunteered were motivated by a desire to "defend" their homes and hearthsides, their "patria chica" or local County or home state from an "invasion" of loyalists attempting to suppress rebellion and sedition. But the actual stated objectives and rationales for secession, while, as you say, were "brutally honest" about the motive of defending slavery and property rights of Southern planters--particularly those of human chattels. Social historians made so much headway about uncovering the small-unit loyalties that bind together units of fighting men--"bands of brothers"--that the letters, diaries, and so on of the ordinary combatant obscured the actual politics and overarching reasons of why these fighting men were in the field in the first place. I mean, no one could possibly have been "duped" right? Everybody has "agency" so how is it that people who didn't own slaves much less ever write home to say that was what their motivation was have been making such sacrifices for a narrow, self-possessed planter ruling class... I mean "ruling class?" right? What is that? All Karl Marx or what? "What is this, a 'conspiracy theory?'"

I am, very respectfully
Your humble servant,
Federico F. Cavada--D Carlson
 
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